Amid criticism of Public Health England (PHE) over its handling of the COVID-19 outbreak in the country, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock is expected to announce as soon as this week the scrapping and replacing of the agency by a new body that would be in charge of leading the nation’s response to the ongoing coronavirus crisis, the Telegraph reported on Saturday.
The newspaper said that Hancock is planning to merge the PHE with the National Health Service (NHS) Test and Trace, to form a new body called the National Institute for Health Protection, ahead of an anticipated spike in COVID-19 cases in the country this autumn.
A senior minister said that the new body, which would reportedly be in the model of the Robert Koch Institute - responsible for Germany's fight against the pandemic - is aimed to combine science expertise from the PHE and the scale of the NHS Test and Trace operation.
“We want to bring together the science and the scale in one new body so we can do all we can to stop a second coronavirus spike this autumn,” the minster said, quoted by the Telegraph. “The National Institute for Health Protection’s goal will be simple: to ensure that Britain is one of the best equipped countries in the world to fight the pandemic.”
Although expected to be voiced by Hancock as soon as this week, the changes are reportedly set to go into force next month, with the organisational change to take until spring to be formally completed, the newspaper pointed out.
The National Institute for Health Protection is expected to be headed by Baroness Diana Mary Harding, the CEO of the TalkTalk Telecom Group and executive chair of NHS Test and Trace, who is said to have experience in both health policy and the private corporate sector.
The anticipated move comes amid a wave of heavy criticism of the PHE’s handling of the pandemic in the country, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson complaining that the nation’s response to the outbreak was “sluggish” and like a “recurring bad dream”. The PM'sd comments were interpreted as a swipe at the agency.
As of Saturday, the United Kingdom, witnessing a resurgence in COVID-19 cases, has registered over 319,000 coronavirus-related infections and 46,791 deaths.